Healthy and rich in taste, goose meat is mainly promoted in autumn during the gęsina na św. Marcina / Goose Meat on St. Martin’s Day campaign. Regarded as the best are the ecological oat-fed geese from Kołuda Wielka near Inowrocław. Because St. Martin’s Day falls on Polish Independence Day, 11th November, it is an occasion for a double celebration – with geese specialities, a glass of Polish St. Martin’s wine and rogal świętomarciński – a St. Martin’s croissant from the Wielkopolska region. But there are no strict rules – goose can be prepared for Christmas dinner as well.
Geese have been raised for food in Poland for hundreds of years and became world-famous in the 19th century. The agricultural guides of those days contain plenty of tips on raising and feeding the intelligent and delicate bird. Nearly every cookbook has a recipe for the tasty and once popular półgęsek (sometimes spelled “półgąsek”) – smoked goose breast – a treat which nowadays is regaining its fame. It’s worth noting that the Pomorze, Kujawy and Wielkopolska regions were the agricultural areas of the Prussian Kingdom during the Partitions of Poland. The proof that Poland was “the goose power” of the past is, for example, the fact that the Warsaw commodity exchange used to sell 3.5 million geese each year. These birds would then be marched to the Prussian Kingdom. Their feet would be covered in tar to help them survive the long walk without injury. Before the World War II, goose dishes were common in Polish restaurants. Today, even though Poland is Europe’s largest producer of geese, its levels of consumption are low. But fortunately, they’re steadily increasing.
"Gęsina na św. Marcina"
Najlepsza gęsina na św. Marcina / The best goose meat is on St. Martin’s Day – the old proverb still holds true these days, since goose meat is at its best at this point of the season. In the past, 11th November was an important religious holiday celebrated in honour of Saint Martin of Tours (the patron of, among others, wine-makers and viticulturists). The St. Martin’s goose was a part of the culinary tradition.
In 2009, in collaboration with other institutions, Slow Food Polska launched a campaign – gęsina na św. Marcina / Goose Meat on St. Martin’s Day campaign. It aims to restore the tradition of goose consumption and the old customs related to it. Because Pomorze, Kujawy and Wielkopolska were the goose suppliers during the partition of Poland, it’s not surprising that the Kujawsko-Pomorski region is nowadays the leader in goose meat promotion. The campaign turned out to be a great success and caused a significant increase in goose consumption and a lessening of its prices; the forgotten delicacy is being appreciated once again. The outcome of the campaign were a surprise even to its organizers. It was widely shared by the media – TV, radio, the press and the web. Restaurants which serve goose are besieged in November; and goose meat is now present in the majority of supermarkets. Chefs bring old recipes back to life and create their own innovative interpretations: carpaccio made of półgęsek, confit made from goose stomachs, a goose breast marinated in rose petals, and ice-cream with foie gras are just a few modern propositions.
An oat goose
A top goose hit, mainly an export product, but also more and more appreciated by Poles, are the remarkably tasty oat-fed geese from Kołuda Wielka. The breed is the result of the hard work of scientists from the Zootechnics Institute of Kołuda Wielka. Raising an oat goose requires coupling natural breeding methods, seasonality, ecological feed and innovative zootechnics.
Semi-wild geese run across the meadows and bathe in pure ponds. These birds are fed solely with ecological feed and a few weeks before fattening, they are given oat grains only – thus the name “oat geese”. The oat geese from Kołuda Wielka dominate other Polish goose breeds, and make up the bulk of geese intended for sale. Besides their excellent meat, oat geese are rich in healthy, aromatic and delicate fat containing easily digestible Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
A goose in a traditional kitchen – from beak to tail
Formerly prepared in an uncountable number of ways, but often forgotten these days; goose has always been present in Polish culinary literature. As early as 300 years ago Stanisław Czerniecki shared his recipes, which included a goose cooked in wine and a hot and sour goose ragout.
According to Father Jędrzej Kitowicz, who described customs in the times of King Augustus III, a “black goose” dish was very popular as well. How did one prepare it? A cook needed to singe a bunch of straw (nowadays, roasted straw is a popular ingredient among innovative Polish chefs), add a spoon of honey, stir in some vinegar, and mix it with some burnt straw, pepper and ginger.
In Kaszuby, a cultural region in the north of Poland, autumn was the season for the preparation of goose lard. This type of fat is also regaining its fame and is now available in many shops. In the past, goose lard, seasoned with salt, pepper and marjoram, would be served on bread or as a soup seasoning during the whole winter season, similarly – okrasa – a type of a spread with goose meat is another northern speciality. Warm milk with honey and lard was regarded as a cold remedy. Goose lard was also very popular in the cuisine of Lithuanian Jews, as they “barely use any butter, are gluttonous for the fat – goose lard, that is”. Authors also wrote that “congealed goose lard is perfect on bread, stir-fried with salt and marjoram or marinated apples.”
Soups and pottages were always a part of Polish cuisine; it’s not surprising that some of them were made using goose. These include: krupnik – a barley soup – made on geese stomachs, czernina (sometimes also spelled “czarnina”) – a blood soup – made with goose blood, a sour soup with oats, and in the rich cuisine of the Kaszuby region: a swede/rutabaga soup (the so-called “war” vegetable which became infamous after World War II) made with a whole goose or gapio-zupa – a type of broth made with goose giblets and potatoes.
Take a look into any random old Polish cookbook to understand the culinary abundance of goose dishes. Besides the classical goose roasted with apples (probably the most popular goose recipe in Poland), goose would also be stuffed with sour cabbage, groats or chestnuts, goose breasts would be served in sour cream, and smoked sausages would be made of chopped goose meat. Stuffed goose necks were a part of both the Jewish and Polish culinary traditions. Nowadays, this speciality is most likely to be found in restaurants specializing in the cuisine of the Ashkenazi Jews. Goose meat was also prepared in jelly (the so-called galareta), and goose livers ended up as pâté or mousse, prepared in both Polish and French styles (e.g. foie gras – the Strasbourg type), with the addition of other types of meat, delicate veal thymus or fresh oysters. Sausages were made from goose livers mixed with marjoram, wine and crayfish butter and cooked in broth.
The aforementioned Półgęsek, a type of smoked, cured meat made from raw goose breast – is nowadays associated with the Kujawsko-Pomorskie region, but many recipes come from old cookbooks published in Vilnius, L’viv, Warsaw or Kraków as well.
“Wallowed in bran, półgęski should be smoked as any other cured meat” – the authors wrote. “One who has many geese can cut and salt them, and store them under ice until spring (…). Salted półgąski are excellent when cooked and served with horseradish.”
The author of the Praktyczny kucharz warszawski / Practical Warsaw Cook book from 1889 advised rolling the półgęski and smoking them with cloves, lemon peel and pimento. Would you care for a dry goose pudding? You will need some goose giblets, an onion, root vegetables and beaten egg whites. “Cook it in boiling water and serve with a spicy mushroom or mustard sauce”.
Autthor: Magdalena Kasprzyk – Chevriaux, December 2014